Locals say the peak of Piton de la Petite Rivière Noire, on the island of Mauritius, looks like a gorilla’s head. I found the mountain – we passed it every time we drove to the capital, Port Louis – bore a strong resemblance to a character from a computer game I played as a child, and from then on referred to the peak as Donkey Kong Mountain.
Mauritius, an island nation in the Indian Ocean, measures 1,874km2 – making it the same size as Maui, Hawaii, or Fraser Island, Australia, and a bit smaller than the country of Luxembourg. It’s located 2,000 kilometres off the east coast of Africa, and lies about 1,000 kilometres east of Madagascar.
The island was uninhabited when Arab sailors arrived in 10th Century CE, although there was evidence, in the way of wax tablets, of unknown explorers – perhaps Greek, perhaps Phoenician – that had visited the island in the distant past.
The island was a Dutch colony from 1630 to 1710, a French colony from 1715 to 1810, and a British colony from 1810 until 1968, when it gained independence.
Port Louis was used as a harbour during the Dutch colonial period, but it was the French that developed it into an administrative centre. Mauritius was known as Île-de-France at the time, and the new city was named Port Louis in honour of King Louis XV. The Mauritian Creole name for the city is Porlwi.
Port Louis was an essential stopover point for French ships journeying between Europe and Asia (via the Cape of Good Hope). The port city lost much of its importance when the Suez Canal opened in 1869.
Natural History Museum, Port Louis
The Natural History Museum in Port Louis contains a skeleton of the famously extinct dodo, which was endemic to the island of Mauritius.
The dodo was essentially a super-sized pigeon. It grew to one metre in height, and, lacking predators, it lost the ability to fly. It was hunted to extinction by sailors; the last living dodo was seen in 1662.
The dodo has since become a symbol for extinction, as in the phrase, gone the way of the dodo.
Blue Penny Museum, Port Louis
The Blue Penny Museum contains originals of the 1847 Mauritian orange red one penny and deep blue two pence stamps (purchased for the museum in 1993 for two million dollars). These stamps are considered amongst the rarest in the world; only 500 of each were printed.
Le Caudan Waterfront / Aapravasi Ghat
In the midst of Le Caudan Waterfront, a modern waterside complex including shops, restaurants, hotels and a casino, lie the remains of Aapravasi Ghat, an immigration depot used by the British to process indentured migrant workers.
Between 1849 and 1923 approximately 500,000 Indian labourers were processed at Aapravasi Ghat (now a UNESCO World Heritage listed site) before beginning employment in Mauritius or being transported throughout the British Empire (mostly to work on plantations).
Many of the indentured labourers sent to Mauritius never left the island. Mauritius is now the only country in Africa whose dominant religion is Hinduism.
Day trips from Port Louis
Ganga Talao, which means Lake of Ganga (referring to the Ganges River in India) is situated in the crater of an extinct volcano, and is an important holy site for Mauritian Hindus. It contains temples to Hanuman, Ganesh, Ganga, and is dedicated to Shiva.
Ganga Talao contains a 33-metre high statue of Shiva, which is the 3rd tallest statue of Shiva in the world. The statue is a reproduction of one in Sursagar Lake in Gujarat, India.
The crater lake is 35 kilometres (a one hour drive) from Port Louis.
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden
Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam Botanical Garden, shortened to SSR Botanical Garden (named after the first prime minister of Mauritius), also known as Pamplemousses Botanical Garden (as it is located in the district of Pamplemousses, on the outskirts of the capital) has the claim to fame of being the oldest botanical garden in the Southern Hemisphere.
The garden was created in 1770 by French botanist, Pierre Poivre. The premier attraction of the gardens is the reflecting pool full of Victoria amazonica (also known as giant water lilies – which I see in their natural habitat in my post on the Amazon).
Seven Coloured Earths
The Seven Coloured Earths, located near the town of Chamarel (50 kilometres from Port Louis, a one hour drive), is a unique geological formation involving an expanse of tie-dyed clay dunes. The colours are produced by the presence of iron and aluminium in the soil.
Chamarel Falls, just 1.5 kilometres outside of Chamarel town, are 95 metres in height, and well worth a few minutes of your time – especially if you are already driving all the way out here to see the Seven Coloured Earths.
Île aux Cerfs
Île aux Cerfs is a privately owned island fringed with white sand beaches. The island is a bit of a tourist trap. It can feel overrun with day-trippers, but the vast majority of visitors remain clustered around the ferry drop off point.
It’s a large island, and if you’re willing to take a fifteen minutes stroll from the tourist centre, then you’re likely to find a patch of beach all of your own.
There are direct international flights to Mauritius from Australia, Europe, Africa, and Asia.